John Todd Morrison, M.A., B.Sc., Hon.D.Sc. (Cape Town)

RSE Obituary

by Alexander Brown

Obituaries Index

In the death of Professor Morrison in the latter part of 1944, South Africa has suffered a grievous loss. He had for long been a prominent figure in Science and Education, and, in his own district, in every kind of good work.

Born in Perthshire in 1863, he completed his school education at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, of which he was Dux in 1878. At the University of Edinburgh he took the degrees of M.A. (1883), B.Sc. (1888), and achieved distinction in practically every class he attended. He was Neil Arnott Prizeman and Vans Dunlop Scholar in Physics.

From 1886 to 1891 he held Physics posts at the Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh. In 1892 he was appointed Professor of Physics and Chemistry at Victoria College, Stellenbosch, and continued to be associated with that institution - later to become the University of Stellenbosch - till his retirement in 1934. During that period Stellenbosch University developed from a small local centre of higher education to a University of about 2000 students, and similar expansion occurred in other centres of the Union. Professor Morrison took an active constructive part in the formation of his own University, and also in the determination of the general lines of development of higher education throughout the country as a whole.

His interest in research was maintained throughout the whole of his career. His early work on Marine and Lake Physics appears in the Proceedings R.S.E. and in the British Association Reports. In South Africa his most important work was on Terrestrial Magnetism. For several years his vacations were occupied with magnetic work, and in 1909 he obtained a year's leave, which he spent taking observations in S W Africa, Rhodesia, and as far north as Egypt. This work was done in association with Beattie (now Sir Carruthers Beattie) and was published in the Carnegie Institution Reports.

He also published papers on Meteorological Physics and other topics, maintaining his activity after retirement; actually at the end of his life he was engaged on a research on the Circulation of the Atmosphere, of which the final draft was in course of preparation.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh since 1892; and was an original Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. In 1929 he received the honorary degree of D.Sc. from the University of Cape Town.

He was one of the creators of the University of Stellenbosch, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the debt which that University owes him for his labour and ability in this task, and particularly for the inspiration which he gave the new generation in the direction of research. Many prominent citizens of South Africa were among his pupils.

As a good citizen he was an active member of several public bodies. In particular his long and public-spirited labours towards the establishment of a new hospital at Stellenbosch have recently been crowned with success.

He endeared himself to all who knew him by his kindness, courtesy, and inherent sweetness of nature; a wide circle laments the loss of a dear friend. He was twice married, and leaves a widow, two sons and two daughters.

John Todd Morrison was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 7 March 1892, his proposers being Peter Guthrie Tait, Alexander Crum Brown, Alexander Buchan, Cargill Gilston Knott. This obituary, written by Alexander Brown, appears in the Royal Society of Edinburgh Year Book 1945, page 20.